Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Major Events/Life and Lies

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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Major Event
The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore by Rita Skeeter
Location Various places around England
Time Period Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Important Characters Harry, Albus Dumbledore, Rita Skeeter, Hermione, Bathilda Bagshot

Overview[edit]

Beginner warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Shortly after the death of Albus Dumbledore, muck-raking journalist Rita Skeeter publishes a scurrilous book about Dumbledore. The revelations in this book severely shake Harry's faith in his erstwhile hero, and lead him to wonder whether Dumbledore had been honest with him about anything.

Event Details[edit]

While packing up to leave the Dursleys' home for the last time, Harry happens to see Dumbledore's name on a Daily Prophet. Reading, he finds a eulogy to Dumbledore by Elphias Doge, and, in a more recent edition, an interview with Rita Skeeter on the occasion of the publication of her book, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. While Doge's obituary is something of a revelation, telling Harry of Dumbledore's father who was sent to Azkaban, and of Dumbledore's mother, brother, and sister, the hints of scandal that Skeeter reveals in her interview seem to go counter to everything Harry had believed about Dumbledore.

At the wedding, Harry finds Elphias Doge and attempts to discern the truth from him. Their conversation, however, is taken over by Auntie Muriel, who apparently believes the scandals alluded to by Skeeter and overshadows Doge by sheer volume. Harry does learn that the Dumbledore family, along with Bathilda Bagshot, lived in Godric's Hollow, just as Harry's parents had.

When Lupin visits the Trio at Grimmauld Place some time later, he brings a copy of the Prophet with him. That edition contains an excerpt from Rita's book, in which Dumbledore's mother Kendra is described as proud and haughty. It also suggests that Kendra was hoping to be able to hide her daughter Ariana, who Skeeter says was a Squib. While there is very little here that has not already been alluded to in the earlier interview, it is still something of a shock to Harry to see it written down so completely.

Later, the Trio infiltrate the Ministry to attempt to recover the locket Horcrux from Dolores Umbridge. While searching Umbridge's office, Harry sees what he takes to be a small mirror showing Dumbledore's face. On inspection, he finds it to be a copy of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. He has only time to look at one of the photographs therein, one showing two teen-aged boys, apparently friends, before he is interrupted.

Very shortly afterwards, Harry sees one of the teen-aged boys again. Voldemort has found Gregorovitch, and is torturing him for information on something he had once owned. Unwillingly viewing Voldemort's thoughts, Harry sees, in Gregorovitch's memories, a teenager from the photo leaving through Gregorovitch's shop window, having stolen something from him.

Harry and Hermione decide to visit Godric's Hollow to speak with Bathilda Bagshot, arriving on Christmas Eve. In Bathilda's house, Harry notices several vacant picture frames, and surmises that the vacant frames once held the photos now found illustrating The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. He also finds a photo of the teenage thief, and puts it in his pocket. At the disastrous end of the visit, he loses the photo of the thief, and Voldemort finds it.

The following day, Hermione reveals that she had picked up an unopened copy of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore from Bathilda's parlour. Harry finds the picture of the two teenagers, with a caption identifying Dumbledore, and the teen-aged thief as his best friend, Gellert Grindelwald. Reading a chapter titled, "The Greater Good", they learn that Dumbledore graduated Hogwarts with many honors and accolades. He and his friend, Elphias Doge, intended to take a Grand Tour of Europe, but Kendra Dumbledore's sudden death canceled it. Although Doge had claimed that Dumbledore made a grand sacrifice to care for his family, the book implies otherwise, quoting several Godric's Hollow citizens. One Enid Smeek recounts that Albus did little to curtail his brother Aberforth's wild behavior and kept his sister, Ariana, hidden away. Although the Dumbledores remained reclusive, Bathilda Bagshot reportedly established a friendship with the family. Skeeter claims that although Bathilda's memory may have been affected by age, she was able to extract enough facts to piece together the scandalous story of Kendra's death, which was passed off as a spell backfiring. She also debunks Ariana being sickly and claims Albus had an affinity for the Dark Arts and may have supported Muggle oppression.

The same summer that Albus returned home to care for the family, Bathilda Bagshot took in her great-nephew, Gellert Grindelwald, a student as brilliant as Dumbledore, who was expelled from Durmstrang. He and Albus quickly formed a close friendship. In a letter to Gellert, Dumbledore writes that he agrees Wizard dominance over Muggles is for the greater good, but they must rule responsibly and only use force when necessary. He believes that was Gellert's mistake at Durmstrang, although he says that if Gellert had not been expelled, then they would never have met. Rita states that this letter proves that Albus Dumbledore once intended to overthrow the Statute of Secrecy and establish Wizard rule over Muggles. It contradicts his later stance supporting Muggle-born witches and wizards and protecting Muggles' rights.

But barely two months after their friendship began, Dumbledore and Grindelwald parted ways and did not see each other again until their legendary duel. Bathilda Bagshot believed the rift involved Ariana's death. Gellert was in the Dumbledore house when it happened, and he came home distressed, leaving by Portkey the next day. Bathilda says Aberforth blamed Albus, and they came to blows at the funeral. Bathilda goes on to say that Gellert's departure was unfortunate, as he would have been a comfort to Albus. It was never understood why Aberforth blamed Albus for Ariana's death, although it is speculated that it was related to Albus' friendship with Gellert, who had been expelled from Durmstrang for near-fatal attacks on fellow students.

Grindelwald then went on to become one of the greatest Dark wizards, conquering much of Europe. It was not until five years after his reign of terror started that Dumbledore succumbed to the Wizarding world's pleas to end Grindelwald's vicious rampage. Questions lingered after Grindelwald's defeat, however. Was it his affection for Grindelwald that delayed Albus taking action? How and why did Ariana die? Was it an accident or the first attempt at implementing their "Greater Good" plan?

The chapter ends here, and Harry is stunned as he endures the loss of his unwavering trust in Dumbledore, who once embodied nothing but goodness and wisdom. Hermione reminds him that it was Rita Skeeter who wrote the book, but Harry points out Dumbledore's own words in his letter to Grindelwald. Hermione says that, unfortunately, Grindelwald's slogan, "For the Greater Good", probably stemmed from Dumbledore's ideas and became Grindelwald's justification for his atrocities. Those words were reportedly carved over the entrance to "Nurmengard", the prison Grindelwald built to jail his enemies. Hermione attempts to attribute Dumbledore's actions to his youth, but Harry reminds her that they are the same age, and they are fighting Dark Arts, not championing them. Hermione claims she is not defending what Albus did, but says he had just lost his mother and he was alone. But Harry points out he had a brother and that he kept his Squib sister locked up, although Hermione doubts she was Squib. She says that the Dumbledore they knew would never have allowed Muggle oppression, and whatever he believed when he was seventeen, he chose a different path and spent his remaining life fighting evil. Hermione surmises that Harry is really angry because Dumbledore never revealed this about himself, which Harry acknowledges may be true. But he wonders how Dumbledore could have left him in such a mess, and if he ever really cared about him.

It turns out that what Skeeter has done is interviewed those who knew Dumbledore from outside the household, most notably Bathilda Bagshot by means of Veritaserum. While the events she writes about did happen, full understanding of the circumstances surrounding them is delayed until near the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Escaping Death Eaters in Hogsmeade, the Trio enter the Hog's Head, where they find that the bartender is Aberforth, Dumbledore's brother. Aberforth gives more of an insider's view of the events of the time which, while still not particularly flattering to Albus, at least explains the events of the day and dispels much of the fear Harry has that Dumbledore had been on the Dark side. Dumbledore's motives, however, are not revealed until somewhat later, and a full understanding is only granted later still.

Notable Consequences[edit]

The principal effect of the appearance of this book is to cast Harry's belief in his hero, Dumbledore, completely into disarray. He had been carrying out Dumbledore's mission out of love and respect for the man Dumbledore was, but finds that there is an entire unexplained, and possibly scandalous past that Dumbledore has never told him about. As he is no longer sure who Dumbledore was, Harry is unsure about the worth of the mission that Dumbledore had set him, and of the value Dumbledore had placed on him personally. Was Dumbledore truly what he seemed, or was he simply conning Harry into doing his work for him?

Information in this book, and information gathered elsewhere, leads Harry along a path that Voldemort is also following: towards one of the Deathly Hallows. Without information gleaned from this book, Harry would not have understood the link connecting the experiences he received from Voldemort, and would not have been able to determine what Voldemort sought, or why.

Analysis[edit]

Rita Skeeter has always been held up as an example of the very "yellowest" of the yellow press, writing for sensation rather than for truth. While there is often some fact behind what she writes, she has completely internalized the belief that the function of a newspaper is to sell newspapers, and thus the function of a writer is to write whatever sells. In this book, we see her at her "best", taking events that are open to misinterpretation, and misinterpreting them to the maximum sensationalist effect. One could wonder why Harry so readily accepts the picture she paints, despite its differences from the Dumbledore we, and Harry, have come to know. Apart from the all-too-human readiness to believe the worst in others, there is little that would make Harry believe Skeeter's story. However, Skeeter is a very successful writer, and by now has quite obviously learned how to use a single provable fact to support a veritable tower of innuendo. Harry, young and inexperienced, is not yet able to deconstruct Skeeter's text and determine where he is being duped.

There are several passages in the series that could be considered epigrams. One of them, spoken by Dumbledore late in the second book, is "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Though Harry is, at the time, comforted by this thought, he is not so quick to apply it to others. In this case, Harry is quick to accept the stories told by Skeeter at face value, probably because the only counter-story he has heard to date is the weak protestations from Elphias Doge. Believing these stories about Dumbledore's past is particularly harmful because Harry seems unable to believe that people can change. He has shown this before, when he learned about his father's student life; though told that James had stopped being a bully and had become quite the upstanding wizard, Harry remains doubtful that his father had really changed, and wonders who his father really was. Skeeter's revelations similarly upset Harry's understanding of Dumbledore and his motives, and Harry seems unable to see that Dumbledore had made choices that changed him to the wizard he was, leaving behind the child he had been. Possibly this is because, while Harry has made the choices that distinguish him from Tom Riddle, to Harry's perceptions, the choices he made were not changes in behaviour, but simply affirmations of his beliefs. The key choices he made, in his first day at Hogwarts, were to reject Draco's offer of friendship on the Hogwarts Express, and the Sorting Hat's suggestion that he would "do well in Slytherin". As both of these choices were simply affirmations of his existing beliefs, he may not be able to perceive that great changes can equally be chosen. Curiously, though, he does not recognize that Dumbledore's choice, to support Muggles rather than rule them, is equally an affirmation of his previous character, and the episode presented by Skeeter is an aberration inspired by Grindelwald, rather than a measure of his true character.

As horrible as it is, this book is actually quite an important factor in Harry's maturation. The reader can see, as Harry starts to in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that prior to this year, Harry has been largely reacting to others rather than acting on his own. It is only in this book that he takes the initiative, choosing to pursue the Horcruxes, rather than following Voldemort's pursuit of one of the Hallows. While it is true that in making this decision, he follows Dumbledore's wishes, he must first elect to do so, rather than following the allure of the Hallows which promise "the ability to conquer Death". By forcing Harry to re-examine his assumptions about Dumbledore, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore sows the doubt that allows him to consider the other choice.

This last item merits examination in some depth. In the first five books, it should be obvious to the reader that Harry is purely reacting to events initiated by Voldemort and his associates, and to a lesser extent to Dumbledore and his wishes. This is pointed up for us by a comment of Ron's, that Dumbledore likely knew everything that was going on, and had allowed Harry to face Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Looking back at events from the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the reader could be forgiven for believing that Harry's role was to be a tool for Dumbledore, rather than an individual in his own right.

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore expressly acts to bring Harry into his confidence to the extent that he feels able. Dumbledore teaches Harry almost all that he has been able to learn about Voldemort's early career, knowing that a key to defeating an enemy is understanding him. Despite this preparation for battle, Dumbledore gives no clue that he expects Harry to be fighting Voldemort directly. Right up to the end of the book, when Dumbledore dies, it would appear that Dumbledore will be fighting Voldemort, and Harry will be assisting him, a role that Harry seems almost worshipfully to accept. As long as Harry accepts Dumbledore's guidance without question, he cannot mature; and it takes a very large event, Dumbledore's death, to force Harry out of that comfortable area.

However, we can quickly see that is not enough. Harry clearly remains unthinkingly loyal to Dumbledore's memory after the funeral, a fact we hear him express to Scrimgeour, then, and again at The Burrow during the summer. The long wander through the wintry English countryside, which causes Ron's departure, coupled with the doubts raised by Skeeter's venomous book, lead Harry to question his mission and whether Dumbledore saw him as anything other than a tool. It is this self-examination that allows Harry to decide for himself that he will follow Dumbledore's instructions, rather than following his own inclination to try and thwart Voldemort's attempt to retrieve the Elder Wand. This same awareness of self assists him in deflecting Aberforth's jeering comments about the validity of Harry's mission. But without the self-examination, Harry would be very unlikely to come to any real understanding of why he was doing what he was doing, and the story would have been significantly weaker as a result; and Skeeter's book, excerpted in various places through this particular part of the story, is key to unbalancing Harry's world to the point that he must actually think about his place in it.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore first appears, and is completely dealt with, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and as such there is very little effect that it can have on the rest of the series. However, one point is of some interest here, and we must wonder why Skeeter did not mention it in her book or articles. It is true that Dumbledore never married, and it appears from his comments later, where he speaks of being "infatuated" with Grindelwald, that in fact he is homosexual. In the United States, it would be impossible to have a known homosexual in charge of a school as large as Hogwarts. We wonder why Skeeter did not make more of Dumbledore's sexual proclivities than she did, despite the more forgiving attitude of the British. The only conclusion we can reach is that perhaps her editor struck those passages out as being too inflammatory for her audience, all of whom presumably passed through Hogwarts while Dumbledore was a teacher or headmaster there. Further, that thesis was likely unsupported by any facts other than chance comments in the letters between Dumbledore and Grindelwald; one thing Dumbledore was good at was discretion.